Operator alliances are coming thick and fast. Or rather, the re-branding of them is. First there was StarHub, the newly-branded group of nine smaller operators who have banded together to increase buying power, cooperate on roaming and try to attract multinational companies.
Then yesterday, a year after its birth, four major European carriers (TIM, Orange, Telefonica Moviles and T-Mobile) christened their roaming alliance FreeMove, although ABV, (Anyone But Vodafone) might have been a better name. FreeMove is about attracting the top end business market, ensuring a uniform user experience to users roaming across any of the FreeMove networks. It will also collaborate on handset procurement: it has preferred supplier agreements with Motorola and Siemens and has agreed to purchase six million handsets for 2004. The four operators will also work together on MMS roaming and interoperability. Its big aims are to increase voice traffic by 10% and GPRS data traffic by 100% every year for three years. Those multinational corporates will be offered combined GPRS/UMTS data cards, central account management, and a “transparent view” of costs and usage across the alliance footprint.
Mobile Europe will have more on this alliance in its April issue. There are questions to answer about handset choice and purchasing, as well as account management. There have also been queries about the viability of such alliances, but it seems to Mobile Europe that putting together a roaming agreement and a combined purchasing face is a little different from the full-on joint venture such as BT and AT&T’s now-defunct Concert. It seems operators can’t really win. If you’re not madly acquisitive then you lack scale, if you enter alliances then you lack control.
Then there is also Simpay, similarly around a year old and this time an alliance of Orange, Telefonica Moviles, T-Mobile and Vodafone. Simpay’s aim is to introduce a standardised method of payment to your mobile bill or pre-paid credit for digital content. Although the aim is not to compete with Visa or Mastercard the idea is to encourage the same understanding that wherever you see the Simpay sign on an operators portal or third party website, you can pay for that content using your phone. Simpay has been working hard to get new members on board, and has so far only been able to announce a series of “expressions of interest” from other operators. But of all the alliances this will perhaps be the most significant, if it takes off. There will also be more on this in the April edition of Mobile Europe, including an interview with ceo Tim Jones.
For now, though, a welcome to all attempts made with the genunine intention of fostering ease of use and interoperability. That increased revenues and profits follow is nothing to be afriad of, either.